Ford readies product push in fast-growing Africa, Middle East

Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. is introducing 25 new models by 2016 in Africa and the Middle East, where it projects the driving age population will grow 31 percent by 2023 to 1.7 billion people.

Ford will market the Mustang muscle car, Fusion family sedan and other models in the region, the company said in a statement.

The new lineup was introduced today at an event in Johannesburg, South Africa, to 1,000 employees, dealers, suppliers, government officials and media.

The automaker projects industrywide auto sales in Africa will grow by 40 percent over the next six years to 2.1 million vehicles, said Jim Benintende, head of Ford's operations in the Middle East and Africa.

The company also is rolling out new technology such as its voice-activated Sync communications system and fuel-saving, turbo-charged engines.

"We think there will be significant opportunity in the continent of Africa," Benintende said in an interview. "It's right at the takeoff curve. It's really going to be growing over the next few years."

Ford said it will debut 17 new models in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa over the next two years, including right- hand-drive versions of the Mustang, Fusion and Focus next year.

The driving-age population in Africa will grow by 55 percent to 840 million people by 2023, from 540 million today, the automaker said.

South Africa

Last year, Ford introduced five new models in South Africa, its most ever in that country, which drove up sales there by 40 percent, said Jeff Nemeth, head of the automaker's operations there.

Ford's market share in South Africa, where annual industrywide sales are about 600,000 vehicles, rose to more than 10 percent last year from 7.7 percent in 2012, Nemeth said.

So far this year, Ford has 11.5 percent of the market, trailing Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG. In 2010, Ford ranked sixth in sales among automakers in South Africa, he said.

"We intend to keep growing," Nemeth said in an interview, while declining to give a specific growth target. "I'm not going to take my foot off the gas."

Ford reported a pretax profit of $54 million in the Middle East and Africa in the first quarter, up 15 percent from $47 million a year earlier.

The region accounted for 5.9 percent of Ford's worldwide automotive pretax profit of $919 million in the first three months of the year. Ford said it created the Middle East and Africa business unit this year to increase focus on an "important growth region."

The automaker said it expects the region to breakeven financially this year.

"The total Middle East and Africa car market is expected to grow 40 percent by the end of the decade to 5.5 million vehicles," Benintende said. "Middle East and Africa is the final frontier for global automotive growth."

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